Dolphin sets first feature

Firm also launches online teen telenovela

NEW YORK -- Dolphin Entertainment, the production firm behind such teen TV hits as "Zoey 101," has picked high school comedy "Unpopular" as one of its first feature film projects and is developing an online teen telenovela project, company president Bill O'Dowd said Thursday.

Appearing at the annual What Teens Want conference, organized by Hollywood Reporter parent The Nielsen Co., he said the teen and tween content specialist plans to release the film, based on a script by Kenny Byerly, next fall. Casting will begin shortly, and the film will start shooting this fall, he said. Dolphin is also working on finding a director.

"It's a little bit of 'Mean Girls' crossed with 'Clueless,'" said O'Dowd in a keynote interview.

In October, Dolphin secured more than $100 million in financing from Continental Entertainment Capital for six films that Dolphin will produce and sell overseas, with Sony getting first crack at U.S. distribution. At the time of the financing deal, Dolphin announced "Soul Surfer -- The Bethany Hamilton Story" as its first feature.

O'Dowd on Thursday also spoke about teen preferences in terms of content, story lines and tone, as well as how to reach teens with promotions for entertainment content and advertising.

And he told the audience that Dolphin is developing a Web-centric telenovela for teens. It is currently evaluating three ideas with three different writers and could bring one of them to MIPCOM this fall.

"A telenovela for teens (that) you set in a high school (to run) online in three five-minute segments, I believe in that," he said. "We want to make one, I think it's the greatest thing ever."

He argued that a telenovela would be appealing to the teen demographic due to its focus on relationships and interactions -- in person and in the digital space. "It is a show about relationships," O'Dowd said. "What is more important to a teen than their social standards and relationships? I think nothing."

Asked by an audience member if teen content could in the future feature more protagonists who volunteer or exhibit other active social behavior, he said one of the telenovela ideas does have a female protagonist who volunteers, but does it without lecturing viewers.

O'Dowd also said that a firm he acquired will this fall launch a safe social-networking site, dubbed Dolphin Surf, for teens that allows parents to control which sites their kids can access and who can contact them online. Using fingerprint recognition technology, it will allow parents to set different safety levels for kids of different ages. The cost: $5 a month.